Is Washington state prepared for a major earthquake and tsunami?

This is an archived article and the information in the article may be outdated. Please look at the time stamp on the story to see when it was last updated.

SEATTLE -- Scientists believe the Pacific Northwest is overdue for a massive earthquake.

Voters in Seattle agreed to a levy to rebuild the old seawall along Seattle’s waterfront; it’s an attempt to minimize damage during a quake or tsunami.

Tuesday’s magnitude 8.3 earthquake off the coast of Chile rattled the ground and triggered tsunami watches and advisories across the Pacific Ocean.

Luckily, the waves that rolled into Southern California were minor, but scientists at the Pacific Northwest Seismic Network said our turn could come at any moment.

“We really do need to pay attention to these events around the world and learn from them so we can be better prepared when our earthquake strikes,” said the PNSN's Bill Steele.

In 2001, the magnitude 6.8 Nisqually quake caused massive damage in the area.

Now experts are working on an early-notification system that could provide up to four minutes of warning before the ground moves.

“We are going to have a subduction zone earthquake and it will create a tsunami, and we do need to be ready to act intelligently for that,” Steele continued.

Seattle taxpayers are spending hundreds of millions of dollars to replace the city’s old seawall. The Seattle Department of Transportation said the old structure would likely fail and send water flooding into the city.

“Even a small earthquake potentially could cause damage,” said Jessica Murphy with SDOT. “It could even be damaged in large coastal storms.”

“We need viable evacuation option for our citizens,” said Steele. “Right now there are large areas of our coastline where there are people living that have no evacuation options.”

Some progress in Washington state has been made. A new building under construction in Westport, Wash., could save at least 1,000 lives during a tsunami.

The new Ocosta Elementary School in Westport is the first of its kind. The structure utilizes something called vertical evacuation, where people could seek shelter on the rooftop to avoid the rising water.

But experts said that more work needs to be done to save as many lives as possible.

PNSN’s early-warning system won’t be ready for public launch for at least two years.